A Professional Pilot?

I’m not impressed.

Yesterday, my friend Ray flew me down to Mesa, AZ, in his airplane so I could pick up my helicopter, which was down there for its big annual inspection. While we were taxiing from Ray’s hangar to Runway 23 in Wickenburg, we heard the following exchange between two pilots on Wickenburg’s frequency:

Premier 1-2-3 (not the exact call sign; Premier is a small “corporate” jet): Wickenburg, this is Premier 1-2-3. Is there anyone there?

PanAm 5 (not the exact call sign; PanAm is a flight school based at Deer Valley Airport (DVT) that does a lot of practice landings at Wickenburg): This is PanAm 5 at Wickenburg.

Premier 1-2-3: Can you tell me the winds down there?

PanAm 5: The winds are shifting around a little, but they’re mostly out of the southwest at about 5 or 6 knots.

Premier 1-2-3: Oh, great. Thanks….So that means you’re using Runway 26 down there? Is that the runway number?

PanAm 5: It’s actually Runway 23.

Premier 1-2-3: Oh, thanks. We don’t have any approach charts or anything for Wickenburg so we’re kind of flying by the seat of our pants.

Yes, he really said that.

The radio went quiet for a few moments, then another pilot called to say he was 5 miles north, inbound for landing.

Premier 1-2-3: Premier 1-2-3 is about 3 miles south. We’ll be making left traffic for Runway 23.

Pan Am 5: Actually, it’s right traffic for Runway 23 at Wickenburg.

Premier 1-2-3: Okay. Thanks. Right traffic for Runway 23.

At this point, the FBO attendant came on the radio to provide wind and unofficial altimeter setting information. (It’s a good thing the altimeter setting is unofficial, since it’s off by nearly 100 feet.) She asked if the jet wanted fuel on landing and he told her he didn’t, that he was just dropping off some passengers.

We were holding short behind a PanAm plane when the jet came in, zipping past us. He was nearing the other end of the runway where the terminal was when the FBO woman came on again to ask if he knew where to park to discharge his passengers. He told her he’d been there before, then advised everyone that he was off the runway.

Ray and I had been discussing this jet pilot’s lack of professionalism while we were waiting. Both of us knew that one of a pilot’s responsibilities for a flight, as stated in Part 91 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR’s). From Section 91.103, Preflight Action: “Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with all available information concerning that flight.” Surely that must include runway numbers (which are determined by magnetic course headings) and traffic pattern information. This information is available on the Sectional Chart and in the Airport/Facilities Directory, both of which are required to be on board for commercial flights. They’re also available on the Web on various airport information Web sites and on the FAA’s Web site. Heck, I’m a helicopter pilot and I’m supposed to avoid fixed wing traffic when I land at airports, yet I usually know the runway numbers and traffic pattern information just so I can get an idea of where planes might be.

This guy simply hadn’t done his homework.

The PanAm plane in front of us took off. Ray rolled onto the runway. As the PanAm plane drifted to the north of the centerline (likely because of the wind), we took off and headed south.

I’ve since given the exchange a bit more thought. What if the Jet was arriving after 4 PM, when the FBO was closed, and the traffic pattern was empty. Where would he have gotten his information. He was only 5 miles out on his first call; would he have had time to look at his chart or A/FD? Or would he have assumed Runway 26 from memory, made a left traffic pattern low over the homes on the southeast and east sides of the airport, and adjusted his approach only when he realized he was on the wrong heading — 30° off? Approaching at a heading of 260 would have put him right over the homes on Broken Arrow Road — the homes of people already complaining about noise now that the runway is 1500 feet closer to their homes. Would his action have had a long-term impact on the airport?

The point here is, all pilots are responsible for gathering information about the flight — including the airport they intend to land at. This guy acted irresponsibly and was fortunate enough to have people on the ground that could provide him with the information he needed.

But as any pilot knows, you’re not always lucky. You need to do your homework before you get on board and start the engines.

What do you think?